Going into the final week of the regular season with the Missouri Valley Conference tournament less than 20 days away, the Drake women’s basketball team has righted the ship.
The Bulldogs capped their regular-season home schedule with a 78-45 victory over the Bradley Braves to move into a tie for second place in the conference with Southern Illinois and Missouri State.
Accounting for tiebreakers, it’s unlikely Drake (19-8, 12-4 MVC) will catch first-place UNI, who leads the standings by a game, but the final two contests — including the finale against SIU — will still determine Drake’s seed in the tournament.
It was a bounce-back weekend for the Bulldogs, who had lost two in a row before dominating Loyola on Friday. Now it’s on to Evansville and SIU before the MVC tournament in two weeks.
“I think it was a great weekend for us,” point guard Caitlin Ingle said. “Every shot didn’t go in today, but I think that’s what made it fun. We still had that energy, we still had fun, so if we take that on the road we’re going to be good.”
On Sunday, Drake had only a two-point lead on Bradley after the first quarter, but the Bulldogs started scoring in bunches to take a 17-point lead into halftime, 41-24.
The Bulldogs made six shots in a row at one point in the second quarter and finished the half shooting 9-for-11. Bradley missed 13 of their last 15.
That cold shooting stuck with the Braves in the second half. They made only three shots from the floor in the third quarter and were 0-for-5 from behind the arc. They would finish the game shooting 27 percent from the floor.
Meanwhile the Bulldogs scored the first seven points of the third to take a 48-24 lead. A Whitney Tinjum jumper brought Bradley within 19, but Drake responded with eight straight points, six on free throws, to go up 58-31.
At the 4:49 mark in the fourth quarter, Drake was up by 30, basically the Knapp Center norm. During the home conference season, Drake’s average margin in its seven victories was 30 points. It’s good entertainment for Bulldog faithful, nearly 2500 in attendance.
“People love to watch them,” head coach Jennie Baranczyk said. “They love to be a part of it and I think that’s something really, really special.”
The Bulldogs were once again led by junior Lizzy Wendell, who added a pair of steals and five rebounds to her 24 points. It was the 46th time in career that she had scored 20-plus points.
“I think there’s no question she’s the best player in our league, to be honest, because she does so many different things,” Baranczyk said.
The last regular-season home game is always designated as Senior Day, and center Emma Donahue was honored with a postgame ceremony in which she addressed the Knapp Center crowd.
She thanked everyone from the fans to the cheerleaders to her family and, of course, her teammates and coaches.
“You guys are seriously the best team in the world,” she said while fighting back tears.
After speaking, Donahue hugged each of her teammates and coaches individually. In her postgame press conference, Baranczyk made sure to mention her lone senior.
“This one was for her.”